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Activities at Matthiessen SP

Activity Permits

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Land Management requires any group of 20 or more persons who use Department facilities to have advance written (Activity Permit) permission from the Site Superintendent or Site Manager.

Regardless of group size, the Department may require additional liability coverage be provided through an Activity Permit. Release of Liability may be used if a family, organization, or school do not have liability insurance.  Site managers may deny the request if the facilities are not adequate to handle the size of the group, if public health or safety might be compromised, if the liability risk to the Department is too great or if there would be adverse impacts to natural resources at the site.

As a general rule, the Activity Permit is to be used for groups of 20 or more requesting traditional recreational use (for that site) of any facility (shelter, picnic area, etc.). Site managers have authority to grant or deny these permits.

Activity Permits are to be used whenever a non-traditional use of any facility is requested (example - a request for a family reunion) and/or any activity that might increase potential liability to the Department (example - search and rescue teams practicing on rock faces). These requests need to be made at least 21 days in advance of the activity and forwarded to to the Regional Office for processing.

Permit to Sell is needed if food or goods are sold, fees are charged or when money changes hands in any manner among the organizers, spectators and/or participants. 

Guidelines for completing Activity Permits

The individual(s) or group (Permittee) requesting the activity must complete and sign the Activity Permit and submit to the Site Superintendent at least 21 days prior to the event. This requirement can be waived at the discretion of the Site Superintendent.  Email DNR.Starvedrock@illinois.gov. 

If activity requires set-up or wrap-up on site, include those dates in the permit the Permittee must provide additional liability protection (see item 5 of permit).

If liability insurance is obtained, the insurance certificate must show Natural Resources as additionally insured (policy holder) and must show the activity location (site/area/name).


The Dells Area of the Matthiessen State Park provides a perfect setting for picnics and an afternoon of relaxation. This area has picnic tables, water fountains and playground equipment, as well as a large parking lot and toilet facilities. An added attraction is the restored fort representative of the fortifications the French built in the Midwest during the 1600s and early 1700s. The main trail to the Cascade Falls area originates in this area. To the south, at the Vermilion River Area, additional picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills and drinking fountains provide convenient picnic facilities. Alcohol is prohibited Jan. 1 through May 31 in the picnic area.

NOTICE: Alcohol is prohibited on all trails.


Matthiessen State Park has 5 miles of well-marked, well-surfaced hiking trails for a relaxing walk or a vigorous hike. Large trail maps are located at all major trail intersections so visitors can choose a variety of routes. The upper area and bluff tops are easy hiking paths for the novice, but the trails into the interiors of the two dells may be difficult to negotiate, particularly during spring and early summer. Hikers must stay on marked trails, as steep cliffs and deep canyons can be dangerous. Hikers will marvel at the plant and animal life along the trails, and have an unparalleled view of geological wonders as they travel through the park. Alcohol is prohibited on all trails.

Cross Country Skiing

There are 6 miles of cross-country ski trails with ski rental available weekends from December through March. Call the Do It, To It Ski Shop to check on rentals and snow conditions at 815-343-7125 or 815-343-9014 before coming to the park.

Horseback Riding/Equestrian Camping/Mountain Bikes

The park provides 9 miles of multi-use mountain bike/ horseback riding trails for those who own their own horse or mountain bike. The trails are color coded and marked with the yield order triangle which symbolizes that all users yield to horse riders. The trail map is at this link.

An equestrian campground for horseback riders and their horses is located west of Route 178 between Route 71 and the Dells Area entrance. Alcohol is prohibited in all campgrounds. The horseback trails and campground are open from May 1st to November 1st, weather permitting/determined by park staff. Call 815-667-4726 to check conditions and status before coming to use these facilities.

Mountain bikes and horses are prohibited on all other trails throughout Matthiessen State Park and Starved Rock State Park. 


For details on hunting programs, check the online Hunter Fact Sheets for Matthiessen, Starved Rock, Sandy Ford and Mitchell’s Grove: Hunter Fact Sheet


A field archery range with a sight-in area and four separate targets is located in the northwestern portion of Matthiessen State Park near Deer Park Country Club just off Illinois Route 71.

A radio-controlled model airplane field is located at the Vermilion River Area. Hobbyists and visitors will enjoy flying or watching as these crafts are maneuvered around this open field area.

Additional Regulations

  • PLEASE NOTE! It is a state offense to remove any archaeological or Native American material from any Illinois state park.
  • No camping, rappelling, or rock or ice climbing are allowed.
  • Hike only the marked trails. Unmarked areas are dangerous. Numerous people have been seriously injured or killed in this park. All users must be off of the trails by/before dark.
  • All pets must be on a leash.
  • In case of an accident or emergency CALL 911